On Thursday evenings and weekends, if you look to the skies over Middlefield in Geauga County, you may spot a sleek, silent aircraft soaring like a bird. It is not an airplane because it has no motor; it is a sailplane. It relies on the winds and columns of air called thermals to keep it flying.
It was the predecessor of these sailplanes, early gliders, which first taught humankind to fly, long before the Wright Brothers attached a motor to the fragile wings and body of a glider and began the era of powered flight.
It was fifty years ago a group of glider flying enthusiasts gathered at the TAPCO Company in Cleveland to organize the Cleveland Soaring Society.
Soaring is the sport of flying a full-size aircraft with no motor. The craft gets airborne by being towed by a long rope attached to a powered airplane to a height of several thousand feet and then the cord is released and the sailplane, depending on the skill of the pilot and the weather conditions, can soar like a giant graceful hawk for an hour or more. However most flights are usually about twenty minutes long before the aircraft glides gracefully back to earth, landing on its single wheel.
Club secretary Dave Mills told me that although the Cleveland Soaring Society has had many homes over the last half-century, the place they have repeatedly come back to is the present home base, the Geauga County Airport in Middlefield. The Cleveland Soaring Society’s members hail from all over northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
There, on Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sundays, weather permitting, you will find a dozen or more members of the club and their families gathering to assist getting the sailplanes into the air. Sailplanes can take off from paved runways or a grassy field. It takes a crew of several people to launch one of the aircraft. A pilot is needed to fly the tow-plane. One or two field personnel then attach the rope from the airplane to the glider. A wing-runner has to lift the wing and hold it steady as he trots along while the glider is towed down the runway until it gathers sufficient wind under its wings for a take-off. Then it is up to the pilot of the sailplane to fly just a bit above the tow-rope in order to let the tow-plane safely pull them up to the altitude agreed upon before take-off which is usually three to five thousand feet. When they reach altitude the sailplane pilot disconnects from the tow-rope and the soaring-like-a-bird part of the flight begins. It is nearly silent in the craft. All you hear is the hushed whisper of wind passing over the glider. While the sailplane is capable of doing loops and steep spirals, the flight is usually a series of gentle turns and breathtaking views of the earth below.
Current society president and chief flight instructor Dave Nuss, told me that visitors are welcome at the airport when the club members are flying. There is no admission charge. Rides with an instructor in the sailplane are available to the public for $100…
★ you can read the rest of this story in the Saturday, June 23, 2012 edition of the Plain Dealer or on their website at www.cleveland.com
UPDATE: By the way. We have learned there are two web sites that direct you to the Cleveland Soaring Society. The one listed in the paper says it is “under construction” A soaring society official told me Sunday that the correct website is: www.clevelandsoaring.org